“Whereas the tourist generally hurries back home at the end of a few weeks or months, the traveler belonging no more to one place than to the next, moves slowly over periods of years, from one part of the earth to another.” – Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky
“I was recommended to go to this restaurant,” is a statement I inevitably hear when a friend or acquaintance tells me they’re coming to Halifax. And more often than not I reply, “Don’t bother.”
My response isn’t one of curmudgeonly disregard or disaffection for the city in which I live. Au contraire. I live and work here as a food writer and journalist. Food is my job. It’s that people in this town rarely eat in many of “those places” unless they are tourists. I could give you lists of places your parents/your cousin/your travel agent told you about, and those lists could probably be placed one over another, the same names repeating from one page to the next.
You could eat there. But there are so many places to go that are all about here – and here is Halifax.
Coffee in Halifax
This city, like hundreds of others, starts its day with caffeine. It starts with grinding beans, steaming wands frothing milk, and the clamor of half-awake individuals waiting for their morning jolt.
Weird Harbour Espresso Bar on Barrington Street is small, with four bar stools that invite you to sip and linger just long enough to finish your cup, and then politely make room for someone else. Be kind, courteous, and caffeinated, and make sure to try the baked goods provided by Tart & Soul up on Oxford and Coburg. The breakfast bialy may not be authentic to those of New York, but it’s delicious.
With the caffeine humming gently in your system, you can find other forms of stimulation. Argyle Fine Art is just a block away from Weird Harbour. Ask about Kim Floyd’s work— brightly coloured paintings of pre-packaged foodstuffs that are anything but cheap nostalgia: they are love songs to daily occurrences of comfort, sustenance, and design.
Eat Like a Local
Walk further south towards the waterfront. You have a destination, and it’s lunch at the Seaport Market. And yes, I’m sure it’s been mentioned by everyone who’s visited the city. This is where you will find the Chenpapa and their perfectly juicy jiaozi – pork dumplings – that make a wonderful snack. Just listen for the clang of metal utensils on metal woks, and look for the steamer table full of burnished dumplings.
Head up to Agricola Street, and you’ll find Kitsune Food Co, a tiny takeout counter. Yes, there is sushi, and the fish is locally sourced as much as possible. But don’t neglect the kara-age (fried chicken thighs) served over steamed rice and doused with Japanese curry, fragrant with ginger. There is a small park down the street where you can sit, eat, and start planning what else you want to do with your day.
Public Gardens and Brews
Maybe you’ll walk to Spring Garden Road, and when you can see the tall gates to the Public Gardens, look south. Stillwell Beer Garden is offering up some of the most interesting brews from around Atlantic Canada and the world. Pro tip: check the alcohol percentage before you order – they might surprise you, so beware. On a hot day, you may find yourself pleasantly dizzy, and not from the heat of the sun.
Before you stop and say, “But this place was on my list,” let me interject. In a city with a gastronomic landscape that is making itself known, there will be places like Stillwell that are (arguably and justifiably) well-known, and will pop up on everyone’s “places to eat in Halifax” list. But what they don’t tell you are the “ins” of it all. This is where the tourist and the traveller diverge.
More Must-Dos in Halifax
For example: DO order a Trinidad Sour at Field Guide bar. DO order Grandmother’s Tea, at the Highwayman for the same reason. DO buy a bottle of something local — preferably bubbly— when visiting The Canteen over in Dartmouth, and DO ask for the specials, because it is often wonderfully seasonal. DO head out 45 minutes before EDNA’s opens for the weekend brunch, (you’ll thank me for it later).
DO order anything made with crab at Bar Kismet. DO visit Java Blend, because they’ve been roasting and serving up coffee since 1938. And make sure you DO visit Salvatore’s in the Hydrostone Market, and order the Coney Island Hero, the chili-laden all-beef hot dog that is only mentioned on a chalkboard above a table in the corner.
All of these “do”s will help you go from tourist to traveller. This is a city that will benefit both, but one leaves slightly richer than the other.
Top image: Field Guide bar (©Carolina Andrade)